Friday, November 7, 2008

Bhutanese refugees find little to cheer about in king's coronation

Kathmandu - Bhutanese refugees living in camps in eastern Nepal said they were closely following the coronation of Bhutan's new king even though they held out no hope of returning to their homeland, Nepalese media reports said Friday. As Bhutan celebrated Thursday's coronation of 28-year-old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, thousands of refugees said there was little reason to cheer, the Kathmandu Post newspaper reported.

"There is no happiness in the refugee camp as the new king ascends the throne," said SB Subba, chairman of the Human Rights Organization of Bhutan. "It is meaningless for the people in refugee camps as the monarchy is the sole cause of our suffering."
His organization has been fighting unsuccessfully for more than a decade for the right of the refugees, most of whom are ethnic Nepalese, to return to Bhutan. They began arriving in Nepal in the early 1990s, accusing the Bhutanese government of persecution based on cultural, lingual and religious differences.

"The new king can only win the hearts and minds of people if he allows all exiled Bhutanese to return home," Subba said.

Bhutan's internal politics has undergone a major change since Jigme Khesar Namgyel's father, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, promised to introduce a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy in December 2005.

He abdicated a year later, and in March, Bhutan held its first parliamentary elections.

But refugee leaders argued that Bhutan's recent political transformation is not democracy in the real sense.

"One-fifth of the country's population is living in Nepal and has been ignored and the king didn't allow them the right to register political parties," said Teknath Rizal, a prominent Bhutanese refugee leader. "Many people inside Bhutan didn't get to vote."

"The king of Bhutan may also bear the same fate as the king of Nepal if he turns a deaf ear to our problems," warned Rizal, who served as adviser to the royal council in Bhutan for four years before he fled the country in the early 1990s.
Nepal's former king Gyanendra was forced to abdicate as the country's parliament voted for the abolition of the monarchy in 2007.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, about 107,000 Bhutanese refugees were living in seven UN-run camps in eastern Nepal at the beginning of the year.
Last year, the United States announced that it was willing to resettle more than 60,000 refugees. Other countries - including Norway, New Zealand and Canada - also said they would resettle refugees.

The resettlement programme began earlier this year, and about 5,000 refugees have left so far for the United States and other countries.
Several rounds of talks between Nepal and Bhutan to resolve the crisis and repatriate the refugees have so far failed.

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